Geek Speak – Watch This: John Carter
People are either going to love Disney’s latest live action sci-fi adventure John Carter, or hate it. And its metascore of 51 (at the time of writing) probably speaks to this. I fall into the former category. I felt the film was a bit of well-crafted fun entertainment.
Expecting a serious film in John Carter is like expecting the next Metallica album to be a smooth jazz tribute to The Sound of Music. The original novels are over-the-top sci-fi pulp fiction, and helped mold the genre. Translating the novels into something serious, or believable, would be a mistake.
The film captured the pulp-fiction fun of the novels rather well. Thanks to director Andrew Stanton for not going the ‘let’s make this serious, gritty, and realistic’ route, which seems to be more and more common place these days. I think John Carter was closer to the original Clash of the Titans than 2010’s remake, at least in tone.
The Titans remake is the perfect example of the ‘serious’ approach to adventure films as of late. The fun, charm, and whimsy of the original Titans was stripped away, leaving us with a brooding, angry Perseus who wants nothing to do with magic and the gods. Yeesh. Where’s the fun in that?
There is no such pretension in John Carter (he hesitates to take up a cause at first, but that is basic storytelling—Refusal of the Call). Yes, the plot is ‘beat the bad guys and marry the princess’ which most folks seem to be ho-hum about today. But, that is the POINT. It is an early 1900s adventure story. Pulp fiction stories paved the way for comic books, with their action, fantastic situations, and super-powered heroes.
To compare to another recent big-budget adventure film, I enjoyed John Carter much more than Captain America. Hands down. Even though Taylor Kitsch wasn’t my ideal John Carter (I would have liked someone a bit more Josh Brolin-y), I enjoyed his performance more than Chris Evans in Captain America. Kitsch’s Carter at least had some spark and grit, while I felt Evans’ Cap never had much of a presence.
The special effects by Pixar were outstanding. The Tharks, the four-armed green people of Mars, looked better than anything I saw in Avatar (and there was no heavy-handed social commentary too). Pixar is great at nailing two things with its characters: expressions, and the eyes. The latter are the most important. Dead eyes in CG characters are an instant turn-off for me. The settings were gorgeous too, and I loved the airships.
I was thankful there was a bit of humor here and there in the film. It helped develop some of the characters rather well. I especially enjoyed how John Carter’s tenacity was showcased early on. But, don’t think it is all laughs–it has some brilliant action scenes. John Carter finds out he has super-strength on Mars, and the film had better super-powered fights than Superman Returns. One scene in particular, when John Carter faces an oncoming horde of foes alone, was nothing short of inspired. Heck, when you get right down to it, John Carter was a better Superman film than Superman Returns.
Case in point: he fights two giant four-armed gorillas. Yes, please.
As much as I enjoyed John Carter, it is not free of flaws: It drags here and there. Some of the jumping scenes don’t look quite right. When I saw it, I had difficulty understanding a lot of the dialogue in the non-action scenes. That may have been a theater issue, however.
I think John Carter will be viewed as a cult classic, sooner than later. It has charm, fun, and adventure. I see John Carter finding its audience after it leaves the theater, which is a bit sad. This is a big film, and it deserves to be seen on the big screen (I already have plans to see it a second time).
Plus, it doesn’t star Sam Worthington or Chris Evans.
(OK, OK. Evans was pretty good as Lucas Lee in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I’ll give him that)